Movie Information

In Brief: Roman Polanski’s pitch-black comedy about a dysfunctional couple living in a castle (where Sir Walter Scott may or may not have written Rob Roy) whose lives are disrupted by the arrival of gangsters fleeing from the law. This is the film that Polanski made after Repulsion (1965) in order to be able to make. The irony is that Repulsion has actually grown to be the more highly regarded film over the years, while Cul-de-sac (1966) has almost drifted into obscurity —relatively speaking. Frankly, Cul-de-sac is the better film, but its merits are considerably more subtle and its audience more specialized than those of Repulsion.
Genre: Black Comedy Drama
Director: Roman Polanski
Starring: Donald Pleasence, Françoise Dorléac, Lionel Stander, Iain Quarrier, Jack MacGowran
Rated: NR

Though much prized in 1966 when it first appeared, Roman Polanski’s Cul-de-sac has become one of the director’s least revived — at least among the films most would consider essential Polanski. I’m not entirely sure why. This existential black comedy certainly isn’t suffering from a lack of Polanski-ness. It’s every inch a Polanski movie — the kind of thing you absolutely cannot imagine anyone else making. (It’s also the kind of thing that used to prompt an old friend of mine to say of the director, “This man is no mere filmmaker, this man is sick.” I believe my friend meant that positively, but I don’t guess it really matters.) It’s tempting to think that this story of a really off-beat home invasion suffers from having no likable characters, but isn’t that something you can say about most Polanski films? I suspect it has more to do with the impenetrable story and its rather unhurried approach.

The basic idea is that George (Donald Pleasence) spends his days largely shut off from the world in a seaside castle — that for part of the day literally is shut off from the world by the tide — with his trophy wife (though I don’t think the term existed then) Teresa (Françoise Dorléac), who spends her spare time in an affair with a strapping young man (Iain Quarrier). This already simmering household reaches the breaking point with the arrival of two gangsters — Richard (Lionel Stander) and Albie (Jack MacGowran) — who are on the run from the cops and living in the hope that an enigmatic big shot named Kattelbach will arrive and save them. Since Albie is slowly dying from a gunshot wound, Richard is clearly the person in charge — and it’s he who takes the couple hostage. But the hostage situation turns into a series of games of shifting loyalties until it’s no longer quite clear who is holding whom hostage. How it plays out is at once bitterly funny and deeply disturbing.

Classic World Cinema by Courtyard Gallery will present Cul-De-Sac Friday, Jan. 18 at 8 p.m. at Phil Mechanic Studios, 109 Roberts St., River Arts District, upstairs in the Railroad Library). Info: 273-3332,

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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